The MOMA New York exhibition “A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio” documents photographers’ adventures experimenting with the studio space
Photographers, artists and videographers from all over the world including Harry Callahan, Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Frank, Charles Ray, Cindy Sherman, Edward Steichen, William Wegman, and Edward Weston. And Man Ray above, no surprise this image has been chosen to lead-off the press release and articles like this. His 1935 photo “Laboratory of the Future” of a reflective silvery orb ticks off the familiar visual shorthand of the crystal ball. But as an image and idea is it also prophetic in the way it nods to the idea of the necessity of experimentation. It suggests that what experiment gives is a creative reflection of self and practice that can be worked and learned from.
A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio at MOMA. Over the last few years, the studio space of designers and illustrators, artists and artisans has been a source of fascination. From Adrian Shaughnessy’s Studio Culture to Art Studio America to The Selby’s photography of creatives in their homes and studios to Jennifer Causey’s The Maker’s project.
It’s partly driven by: a curiosity around how creatives make things; by the ‘behind-the-scenes’ culture that it might reveal the creative mystery; a sense that the imagination isn’t just something that happens in the mind but emerges from tangible local spaces.
The MOMA exhibition showcases how photographers have been exploiting their studios in new and exciting ways ever since the inception of photography. When studio photography is mentioned my mind immediately jumps to a blank background with studio lighting however this exhibit highlights the fact that you are bound only by your creativity. And creativity is sometimes being able to map a line through the chaos of the studio space as in this arrangement by Bruce Nauman.
Instantly you are greeted by an 8mm film of Romanian artist Greta Bratescu. The film is over 15 minutes long and despite my short attention span I watched mesmerised. The film depicts Bratescu moving around her studio in ways that would only make sense in her mind. It opened my eyes to the exhibit and the world of possibilities that come with a studio.
Underlying in the exhibit was the message that there are no boundaries. A studio is a space that can become whatever is needed creatively, whether that is a playground, stage or laboratory. It can be a neutral space with the power to strip down the subject to their most pure and isolated form, as in this image by Harry Callahan.
Or the experiments in light and shadow using cut paper by Francis Bruguière where the most ethereal and flimsiest of matter (light and paper) is given a steely, sharp-edged form by studio practice.
Or the ghostly drama of Adrian Piper’s performances, where she fasted over a period of months and documented the apparition of herself in front of a mirror.
Art Meets Commerce
The most obvious example is one which has already been the subject of serious argument when Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s film “The Way Things Go”, took umbrage at what they saw as the similarity of the chain reaction in the 2003 Honda “Cog”advertisement by Weiden and Kennedy – was it a chain reaction to the chain reaction? How life imitates art.
Pop philosopher Marshall McLuhan observed that newer media turn older media into an art form so consider this abstraction by Christian Marclay exploring the material of analogue culture – the cassette tape. There is still plenty of mileage and appeal for advertisers in the nostalgia for analogue culture.
Question for the artists
Some of the pieces within the exhibit were created in a home studio. I personally find motivation hard to come by when I’m at home. Do you find having a studio ever limits your ideas? Or do the added comforts of home spur creativity?